UN, EU, Russia back Obama's Mideast 'vision'

The United Nations, European Union and Russia gave strong backing Friday to President Barack Obama's "vision" for achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

They agreed that Obama's starting point — borders for Palestine, security for Israel — provides "a foundation for Israelis and Palestinians to reach a final resolution of the conflict through serious and substantive negotiations and mutual agreement on all core issues."

The U.N., EU, and Russia, along with the United States, comprise the Quartet of international mediators which has been trying for nearly a decade to promote a Mideast peace settlement.

The Quartet members said in a statement issued Friday that they are "in full agreement about the urgent need to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians."

"The Quartet reiterates its strong appeal to the parties to overcome the current obstacles and resume direct negotiations and mutual agreement on all core issues," the statement said.

In a major speech Thursday on the Mideast, Obama for the first time explicitly endorsed the borders that existed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war as a starting point for negotiations — a key Palestinian demand. He added that there should be land swaps agreed to by both sides, which could accommodate some existing Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

The U.S. stance was not a major policy change, since the United States — along with the international community and even past Israeli governments — previously endorsed an agreement building on the 1967 lines.

As for security, Obama said "Israel must be able to defend itself by itself against any threat" so there must be provisions to prevent terrorism, stop infiltration of weapons, and provide effective border security. He also said Israeli military forces must make a "full and phased withdrawal" coordinated with the Palestinians' assumption of "security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state."

Britain, France and Germany had been seeking a Quartet meeting in April to endorse the outlines of a peace settlement they proposed — which also included starting negotiations based on the pre-1967 war lines. But the U.S. blocked the meeting, saying it wasn't the right time and the Obama administration didn't think a Quartet meeting would produce anything that would help restart the talks.

Friday's Quartet statement made no mention of a future Quartet meeting.

September looms large in the quest for Mideast peace because Israel and the Palestinians have agreed on Obama's target of September 2011 for a peace agreement, a date endorsed by the EU and much of the world.

When U.S.-brokered direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations resumed last September, Obama announced at the General Assembly's annual ministerial meeting that a peace treaty should be signed in a year. But those talks collapsed weeks later after Israel ended its freeze on building settlements.

The Palestinians insist they will not resume peace talks until Israel stops building settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem — lands it captured in the 1967 war and which the Palestinians want for their future state.

Israel maintains that the Palestinians should not be setting conditions for talks and that settlements didn't stop them from negotiating in the past.

Obama met Friday at the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Before his departure from Israel, Netanyahu dismissed Obama's position on the pre-1967 borders as "indefensible," saying it would leave major Jewish settlements outside Israel.

Egypt's U.N. Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz said Obama's support for the pre-1967 war borders will help the Palestinians win U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state.

He linked Obama's backing for the borders to the Palestinian campaign to get two-thirds of the U.N. General Assembly — at least 128 of its 192 member states — to recognize Palestine as a state by September. Palestine is already recognized by 112 countries and he predicted the Palestinians would get support from at least 130 nations in the next few months.

But for a newly created Palestine to become a member of the United Nations, Abdelaziz said, it must get support from the Security Council, where the United States, Israel's closest ally, has veto power.

"If they put a resolution in the General Assembly requesting the Security Council to recognize the state of Palestine and this resolution passes ... with 170 or 180 votes, I'm sure that this is going to put a lot of moral pressure on the Security Council, and particularly on the United States, in order not to veto," Abdelaziz told a group of reporters on Thursday.

He said he didn't know whether the Palestinians will push for a resolution in September because Palestinian leaders are still discussing what to do.

In his speech Thursday, Obama rejected efforts by the Palestinians to unilaterally take their bid for statehood to the U.N., saying, "Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won't create an independent state."